On his blog the other day (Christmas Eve, actually), Coyote put up a post on magic/magic items in RPGs. He was “inspired” after browsing through the “Magic Item Compendium” for Dungeons & Dragons.

We all like to find Neat Stuff in the games we play, be they pencil & paper, SP CRPGs, or MMOGs. Part of the fun is coming across, one way or another, a magic item, spell scroll, or whatnot.

Coyote’s main contention is that there is too much of it, that the “magic” of magic items is now more a commodity than a reward. Players expect to find plenty of Neat Stuff, most of which they will sell, while on the lookout for the Really Good Stuff they want to equip.

He traces this back to D&D 3rd ed. on the one hand, and to MMOGs like WoW on the other. Especially MMOGs, because let’s face it, “kill and loot” is the main focus of play in such games.

He certainly has a point there. But then, with the publication of 3rd edition, it was obvious that WOTC was aiming to broaden the audience, and make the game appealing to those whose only experience with RPG was the computer versions.

One factor of CRPGs was the fast leveling. No surprise, as these games were meant to be played and finished in a much shorter period than the typical pencil & paper scenario. So there was much time compression there.

That spilled into 3rd ed., where characters could now zoom up the experience table with remarkable speed. My 8th level 2nd edition Fighter would be 16th level in 3rd ed. BIG difference there.

D&D is no longer aimed at the patient player, willing to put in the time to advance. I felt, after my first look at the 3rd ed. rules, that it was designed for munchkins. For people who wanted power and wanted it fast.

So it isn’t exactly amazing that magic items and whatnot are becoming more important in the game. D&D is simply building on the impatience and greed of the new generation of players.

After all, if you’re moving up fast, that means bigger challenges sooner, and so, of course, you need better gear. So let’s just put some Monty Haul in the mix and keep players happy.

As Coyote notes, this cheapens magic items. Instead of being something wonderful, a +1 shield or wand of magic missiles becomes an everyday object. More, the players now expect to find such things all the time. What was once magical has actually become rather mundane.

Personally, I don’t mind it too much in SP games. After all, the leveling is fast, and the game is often designed to make Neat Stuff necessary. Of course, the developers can go too far with that, as well.

For instance, good magic items ought to be rare in shops. Some arrows +1 or +2, maybe a +1 sword or such, could be available. But the best gear should come out of the encounters, and typically the important ones.

That, after all, is how it was when I was playing AD&D (1st/2nd ed.). For that matter, there was Bushido, where magic items were incredibly rare. In fact, I covered much of this in When Story Matters In RPG, where I bemoaned the superfast leveling and magical largesse of modern games.

And this also brings up the issue of “balancing”, which is of most importance (supposedly, anyway) in MMOGs. There is this strange idea that all classes must somehow be equal, which is nonsense.

One of the major reasons to have diversity of classes in a group is because no one person can do everything. All professions have their strengths and weaknesses, and this is what allows everyone to make a contribution to the party.

Aside from eternal “tweaking” where characters are being “re-balanced” (which usually means nerfed), magic items are used as a supplemental equalizer in MMOGs. This has also come over to the non-MMOG products.

Is there a solution? I don’t know. Those of us who came up “the hard way” are likely to appreciate a game that doesn’t focus on “magic, magic everywhere”. But the majority who play today probably wouldn’t like it. They want their toys, and they won’t be happy until they get them.miniscorp

Magic Entitelement on Coyote’s blog